The Black Book of the Admiralty was an ancient book of agreed upon laws ruling the navy of Great Britain. The book is written by several different writers, as both voice and penmanship change abruptly throughout the course of the original text. Compiled with influence from both The Rôles d'Oléron and Consolato del Mare, it was thought to have been first compiled during the reign of King Edward III (approximately 1322 A.D.). The book then grew in fame and volume for about four hundred years until it was lost near the end of the 18th century. In 1874, in an expedition to recover the private papers of a former Registrar of the British Admiralty Court, the book was found in a chest of belongings. Carbon dating at this point revealed that some of the first lines of text were written no earlier than the days of King Edward VI (approximately 1422 A.D.).
One of the most impressive collections of the book is its collection of oaths. In addition to the naval and militant law, the first volume of the book is dedicated to the oath of the King of Arms, the naval herald, and lastly the pursuivant (the attendant to the herald). The oaths are largely a formal regulation of behavior for the navy and military, covering times both out to sea and on the land. The most important of the three oaths, the oath of the King of Arms, is found at the bottom of this document1.
The key difference which separates the Black Book from other ancient naval codes is that it is still available in printed form. While the few surviving copies of The Code of Oleron and the Consulate are mainly privately owned, there are published copies of the Black Book available to the public. Barnes and Noble has no copies in stock, but does offer to search through its used books database for the book. Internet bookstore Amazon.com stocks the book. The prices are $280 for the Monumenta Juridica edition and $495 for the appendicied version. Both are hardcover. A slightly more financially sound purchase can be found at addall.com, where the book can be found under the full title "Black Book of the Admiralty - Monumenta Juridica Charter of Oleron of the Judgments" for only $70.
Oath of the King of Arms
as quoted from The Black Book of the Admiralty
in original Middle English
"You shall swear by the oath the you received when you were made a herald, and by the faith that you owe to the king, our sovereign lord, whose arms you bear, that you shall truly keep such things as are comprised in the articles following:
"1st, whensoever the king shall command you to give any message to any other king, prince, state, or any other person out of this his realm, or to any person of whatever state, condition, or degree he be of within the same, that you shall do it as honorably and truly as your will and reason can serve you, and greatly to the advantage of our sovereign lord and his realm, and truly report bring again to his highness of your message and as near to the charge to you committed in words and in substance, as your said reason may attain to, always keeping yourself secret for any manner motion, save to such persons as you be commanded to utter your charge unto.
"2ndly, you shall do your true duty to be every day more cunning than others in the office of arms, so as you may be better furnished to teach others under you, and execute with more wisdom and more eloquence such charges as your sovereign lord and his realm or of his realm any nobleman shall lay unto you by the virtue of the office, which his highness will erect you to at this time, discovering in no wise that you have in charge to keep closer than that be predjudicial to the king our sovereign lord and his realm.
"3rdly, you shall do your diligence to have knowledge of all the nobles and gentlemen within your march, which should bear coats in the field in the service of our sovereign lord, his lieutenants, officers, and commisaries, and them with their issue truly register, and such arms as they bear, with the difference due in the arms to be given, and they hold any service by knight's fee, whereby they should give to the king service for the defence of his land.
"4thly, you shall not be unwilling to teach pursuivants or heralds, nor to ease them in such doubts as they shall move to you, and such as cannot be eased by you, you shall show to the constable, and if any pursuivant asks any doubt of you, you shall ask him first, whether he has desired any of the heralds to instruct him in the same, and, if he says, you, you shall limit him one of them, or else ease him if you can. Also, you shall keep, from month to month, in your marches, your chapters to the increase of cunning in the office of arms, and the doubts that there cannot be eased, you shall move to the constable.
"5thly, you shall observe and keep to your cunning and power all such oaths as you made when you were created a herald, to the honor and worship of noblesse and integrity of living, namely, in eschewing disreputable places and people, and always more ready to excuse than to blame any noble person, unless than you be charged to say the truth by the king, his constable, and marshal, or in any place judicial. Also you shall permit truly to register all acts of honor in manner and form as they be done, as forsooth as power and cunning may extend, etc."
Briefly interpreted, a King of Arms shall:
Firstly, Do work well, and keep his mouth shut when not in the company of your king or his men.
Secondly, Be better than the best.
Thirdly, Know his enemies better than he know himself.
Fourthly, Be a mentor, change a life.
Fifthly, We are an elite secret society; don't tell anybody else what you have learned from us.